SFN Journal – Autumn Almanac: Into the Wind

A buzzard, bent-winged into the wind, was hanging against the clouds as I walked up the driveway to work. I had to acknowledge a pang of mild jealousy as I watched him twist his ruffled feathers and bank, realign, then tilt and soar off over the tree tops.

Behind me, the jays were raucous in the edge of the woods. They have been watching the oaks that line the margin for the woodland for weeks, and now, like marauding clans bright with war paint, they come each day to raid the acorn harvest and bicker over the spoils. Each individual will carry off his haul, piece at a time, and stash the nuts in crevices or buried under the turf and leaf litter. They will forget the location of many of their stockpiles and in time, there will be new oaks, leafy islands in the centres of fields or protruding from the woodland canopy, to attract the attentions of the pillaging jays with the annual promise of brown nutty treasure.

Autumn has arrived in Sussex, in the teeth of squally showers. It is that time of year when you need three levels of clothing in one day, and if you don’t like the weather, just wait half an hour and see how it changes. Even as I write this, dusk is being hastened in by overcast skies, and a grey penetrating drizzle, and it’s not yet quite seven o’clock; gone are the days when it was bright far into the evening.

With the shortening of daylight hours, other changes have been triggered on the patch.

The horse chestnut and sweet chestnut trees seem to be the first to be changing leaf colour, whilst the sycamore saplings growing up inside the wood are struggling to gather enough light through the heavy canopy and their leaves are turning yellow and blotched. On Thursday last week a cloud of swallows were flitting over the village, in a generally southerly direction, but I have seen none since. The house martins too seem to have left our housing estate, I didn’t notice them go, just gradually realised the skies were significantly quieter. Hawthorns are heavy with berries this year, as are the crab apples and the wild roses, perhaps suggesting a cold winter to come if the old tales are to be believed.

Ivy is coming into flower in the hedgerows, and in any sunny spot the yellow-lime globes attract a host of hovering, buzzing and feeding insects. Some like the honeybees and hoverflies are there to sip the nectar, others such as the heavier bodied hornet are hunters drawn in by the hum of activity.

I’m looking forward to the weekend, to pulling on my wellington boots and getting out for a long walk under the wind-tousled skies, coming home red cheeked and hair-tangled to a hot bowl of soup… a day when I’m as free as the buzzard to enjoy the wind and the playfulness of autumn air.

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